The journey that taught me mind over matter…

Wrapped in an emergency blanket, wedged into a wet ravine, my team mate and I sat out a tropical rainstorm in Sabah, Borneo. Darkness fell. There is no easier place to get lost than in the jungle, it all looks exactly the same, dense with trees and absolutely no reference points. We blindly splashed around on steep muddy slopes peppered with leeches for a few more hours before deciding to stop. Our energy was best reserved for the new day, if it ever came.

It was a long, cold wet and reflective night. Nowhere gets darker or noisier than the jungle and the imagination lets rip. We stayed awake, mute with fear. Just 75k into our 500k race we were in trouble. Sitting there soaked and demoralised, I swore I’d never do anything more adventurous than walk my Labrador for the rest of my life. Daylight came, we followed our noses and made it to the coast.


We swam to the nearest island (yes, really!) in full kit and flopped over our 25k rucksacks. This adventure athlete had expired and I was ready to take all the shame of ordering a helicopter to get me out of there. But it wasn’t a TV show with an exit.We were met by our concerned fellow team mates who’d prepared us a lunch of three day old rice and mayonnaise while we apologised for being late.

They sat us into the canoe and we paddled on between mouthfuls. Whether it was the mayonnaise or the mind, one or the other took over and we were back in the race for another seven days and seven nights, riddled with parasites and with a 15% loss of body weight.

Then there was the Matterhorn. A punishing but ultimately jubilant ascent to the summit, the traditional kisses of congratulations with total strangers on the 2sq. metre peak. Then came a treacherous 2,500m descent in a driving blizzard. Steep, frozen, slimy rocks and morale slipping as fast as my boots.

We are far more capable than what we give ourselves credit for…

This really should have been the end of me, defeated by the elements and a weakening mind with fantasies of a helicopter rescue. But as my guide reminded me, shouting over the snow-storm, some poor person has to risk their life, miss their lunch and pick up somebody who’d just had enough and wants to go home. And anyway, no helicopter flies in such conditions.

Then as rapidly as I’d fallen prey to a desperate and bleak fate, I found new gears, ditched the petulant/can’t be bothered posture and surged ahead with renewed fortitude. Given accidents, injuries or disability to overcome, the human mind can infuse the body with the most extraordinary force.

mind vs body_2

After knee reconstruction following a skiing accident, the professional forecast was I’d no longer lead an athletic life.This was a huge blow for an athletic person and trained dancer. Whether it was obstinacy (or fear of having to pursue a more cerebral career!), I found something deep within and steamed on to win four GB fitness titles and subject myself to physical extremes in the densest jungles and highest mountains.

But in terms of all the challenges and jeopardy and near death moments I have subjected myself to they are all utterly trivial compared to losing my second baby after a full term pregnancy. Fumbling nurses, an absent doctor, a burst womb and no baby to take home. I hoped to black out and go into shock, but instead my awareness heightened and I was acute with recall of every minute during the 24 hour nightmare.

What I learned…

Maybe it was an out of body experience that had my eyes on the clock, the drips…… Of course it was just the start of the nightmare of grieving, believing and accepting, but once again, something flicked and whilst emotional recovery could not be sped up, the physical recovery was in fastforward over the weeks ahead.

These are of course my personal experiences and reference points. It won’t  be long before the Olympics and Paralympics come round again. I recall 2012 vividly. Particularly the Paralympics when we were dazzled by exertion resolve and blank refusal to accept apparent limitations. Talk of mind over matter!

Take the inspiration of a 38kg female carrying the condition nanosomus (better known to most of us as dwarfism) benching 88kg – two and a quarter times her bodyweight. I can only dream of such a lift! And how about the blind 200m runners sprinting with guides, covering the distance only a couple of seconds slower than their sighted Olympic counterparts. You close your eyes and sprint as fast as you can around a bend! The paralympians don’t yield to physical restrictions – they multiply their remaining strengths abilities and senses.

Stop saying you can’t…

We are all capable of the impressive and the remarkable and it’s rarely our body that prevents us, it is our mind. Equipped with belief, desire and determination we can do the extraordinary. Hopefully we will all keep pushing forward set new standards for ourselves and will not buckle under self perceived limitations and obstacles.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans